In Texas, Parents Worry over Swine Flu, Fight Cabin Fever

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Donna McWilliam / AP

A custodian disinfects desks at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 30.

The first concern for Fort Worth's parents is the health of their children. Four hundred miles from the Mexican border, the threat of swine flu — now known as H1N1 virus — has been serious enough to cause citywide school and daycare shutdowns.

So far the number of suspected and diagnosed cases of H1NI in Fort Worth hovers in the teens, but with schools closed until at least May 11, parents must now battle a different disease: cabin fever. Fort Worth's annual festival, Mayfest, and the city's Cinco de Mayo celebration have been cancelled, along with SAT testing and athletic events. Parents have been encouraged by Dr. Sandra Parker, head of county's health department, to practice "social distancing" by avoiding malls and movie theaters. Health officials also are consulting with large public venues like the Rangers' ballpark in nearby Arlington to assess the situation, so far the ballpark remains open. (See the top 5 swine flu don'ts.)

So what's left to do? For the most part, scramble for childcare arrangements and surf the Internet for information. "I Googled 'CHD swine flu' to see if something came up," says Autumn Rose Reo, 28, whose 10-month-old son has congenital heart disease. Reo quickly found links to official public health sites and old-fashioned good advice from moms and dads of CHD children who had dealt with flu outbreaks in the past.

Then Reo passed on what she was learning. Blogging as Team Reo on, a blog set up by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, she has shared the ups and downs of dealing with a CHD baby and passed on basic hygiene tips: "People know how to wash their hands, they just don't do it long enough. So... Scrub with the soap for at least as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday!" She also added a YouTube video on the proper ways to sneeze. "Quite funny but educational! I love the different sneeze techniques."

Cynthia Wahl, recently laid off from the Telegram, also blogs at mom2mom. She had hoped to spend some time exploring business leads for a new future when she got word that her 14-year-old's middle school was shutting down after a confirmed case of swine flu. The prospect of the whole family being home all day — her husband works at home, too — was "kinda crazy," Wahl says, though she looked forward to some "quality time" with her sons. (See pictures of thermal scanners hunting for swine flu.)

"The younger one was scheduled to take his TAKS [Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills] test so he is ecstatic," says Wahl. But try telling a 14-year-old anticipating his first date that movie theaters should be avoided. Wahl said she allowed her son to keep that first date and while the young couple watched their flick in one theatre, she sat nearby in another wondering if the concession workers should have been wearing rubber gloves. "There were a lot of people at the movies," Wahl said, "I mean how can you miss Wolverine?" Reo wonders how working parents of older children are coping. "What are the parents of 15-year-olds doing," she said. "This allows them to get up close and personal with each other while parents are at work!"

Laughing about the crisis does help and there has been some online discussions focused on whether officials may have over-reacted. In nearby Dallas, individual schools have closed but no district-wide shutdown has been imposed yet. But as the number of confirmed cases in Fort Worth increases from one to six with a possible total of 15, Wahl said she believes the closures were correct. "It's better to over-prepare," she said. "I don't fault the school district at all."

The good news is that when students finally do return to campuses, cleaning crews will have scrubbed the buildings clean. "The officials say they have scrubbed down the school, which is great because I think schools are a cesspool of germs anyway," Wahl blogged. "I'm curious if the school has put soap back in the bathrooms? Officials took it out of the bathrooms because kids would wreak havoc with it making huge messes. But, my lord, shouldn't it be back in the bathrooms now? "

Read "To Travel or Not to Travel? A Swine Flu Dilemma."

Read "Why Border Controls Can't Keep Out the Flu Virus."